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|February 11, 1998|
Shiv Shanker and Sarada locked in grim tussle in Tenali
Former Union law minister P Shiv Shanker is locked in a keen tussle with actress Sarada, who is seeking re-election as the Telugu Desam Party nominee from the paddy-rich Tenali constituency in coastal Andhra Pradesh.
Sarada, the three-time Urvashi award winner, had contested the 1996 election for the first time and defeated Congress candidate S Basavapunnaiah by 36,488 votes. Basavapunnaiah had contested the election four times earlier from Tenali, but was successful only once.
While it is a quadrangular contest, the main event is between Shiv Shanker and Sarada. Bharatiya Janata Party nominee Yadlapati Raghunadha Rao secured 14,000 votes in 1996. The fourth candidate is an Independent.
The constituency has 960,000 voters. The Congress has bagged the seat six times, the TDP has won it thrice and the Communist Party of India once. The assembly segments of the constituency were merged with the Guntur and Machilipatnam constituencies. Five assembly segments of the constituency are in Guntur district -- Duggirala, Mangalagiri, Repalle, Tenali and Vemuru while Avanigadda and Nidumolu are in Krishna district.
Like elsewhere in the country, the caste factor comes into active play during elections, threatening to mar or make the fortunes of the main contenders.
Both Shiv Shanker and Sarada hail from backward class communities who constitute about 200,000 members of the electorate. The former Union minister belongs to the predominant Kapu community, comprising about 160,000 voters. Sarada is from the weavers community whose number is estimated to be around 40,000. The constituency has a few hundred thousand scheduled caste and scheduled tribe voters and about 150,000 Kamma voters.
In the last election, one of the main factors attributed to Basavapunnaiah's defeat was the split in the votes of his Kapu community. Ambatti Brahmanaiah, MLA, had contested on the TDP-NTR ticket and secured 72,831 votes.
In 1952, Kotha Raghuramaiah (Congress) won the seat defeating CPI candidate K Satyanarayana. In 1957 N G Ranga was elected; in the next election Kotla Venkaiah (CPI) defeated the Congress candidate by more than 24,000 votes. The Congress won the seat in 1977 when M Nageswara Rao defeated CPI-M candidate G Bapanaiah by 67,000 votes. He retained the seat in 1980, trouncing CPI-M nominee Lavu Balagangadhara Rao.
In 1984, N Venkataratnam (TDP) annexed the seat from the Congress while Basavapunnaiah defeated Uma Reddy Venkateswarlu (TDP) in 1989. Venkateswarlu wrested the seat from the Congress in 1991, defeating Basavapunnaiah by 10,000 votes.
The TDP initially toyed with the idea of shifting Sarada to neighbouring Bapatla to accommodate Union minister Venkateswarlu in Tenali. However, the actress refused to swap constituencies. She also had to contend with opposition to her candidature from TDP MLAs.
The Congress leadership also faced stiff opposition from local leaders to Basavapunnaiah's candidature. In the end, Shiv Shanker made it because of his proximity to Sonia Gandhi.
Except the blaring of audio casettes containing the speeches of leaders at main junctions, the usual hustle and bustle associated with an election is not evident as one drives along the dusty villages of the sprawling constituency.
Talking to a United News of India correspondent at Peddavadlapudi in Mangalagiri, Sarada maintains, ''It is not at all a tough fight...I am covering 10 to 12 villages each day and find the response to be quite positive."
Refuting the charge that film star-MPs do not devote enough time to their constituents, she said she visited the constituency every month. "I have not acted in any film for the past year and kept away from the film industry though I am basically an artiste." She said the extension of the inter-city express train from Guntur to Tenali was one of her major achievements during the past 18 months.
TDP officials allege that Shiv Shanker has been spending huge amounts of money in a bid to win the election. ''The sky is the limit for him," alleges former minister and senior TDP leader M S S Koteswara Rao. The TDP has been telling voters that the former Kerala governor was an ''outsider'' and a protagonist of a separate Telangana state.
Congress campaign managers counter this charge, saying Shiv Shanker has always stood for an integrated Andhra Pradesh. They charged that Sarada was a ''resident'' of Madras and had never stayed in Tenali although she was a native there.
The TDP has pressed actress Jayasudha into the campaign, apart from Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu who has urged the electorate to reject both the ''corrupt Congress'' and the ''communal BJP'' .
In the 1994 assembly election, the TDP bagged four seats -- Avanigadda, Repalle, Tenali and Vemuru. The CPI-M secured Mangalagiri and Nidumolu while the Congress won Duggirala.
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